The workplace as learning environment: Introduction
Christian Harteis and Stephen Billett
University of Regensburg, Germany, and Griffith University Brisbane, Australia
1. From places of experience to learning environments
In the last two decades, and driven by economic and social imperatives, there has been much research into learning in workplaces. The first wave of research was mainly concerned to understand the problem of the lack of transfer from what was learnt in schools to settings and activities beyond schools (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Raizen, 1991; Scribner, 1985). Hence, understanding the contextualisation of learnt knowledge and its application and situated learning processes became focuses for inquiry. However, now governments, enterprises and workers themselves are increasingly concerned about maintaining and developing further individuals’ workplace competence throughout working life. Therefore, in addition to initial occupational preparation which often relies upon the contribution of workplace experiences, there is a growing realisation that as work and occupational requirements constantly change, there is a need for ongoing development throughout working life and through work. The workplace and workplace experiences are seen as being central to this ongoing development (Harteis & Gruber, 2004). Moreover, developing the particular requirements for effective work practice within specific enterprises necessitates learning through engagement with particular instances of occupational practices (Billett, 2006a). These imperatives have economic, social and personal dimensions that are in some ways consistent and richly entangled, yet can have distinct emphases. Governments want skilful and adaptable workforces to maintain or improve national prosperity and the capacity to deliver social provisions, and for workers to be positioned to resist unemployment. Both public and private enterprises are interested in a workforce able to respond to the changing work requirements in ways pertinent to their workplace needs, in order to sustain the effective provision of their goods and services. Workers need to maintain their capacities for effective performance, and for some (e.g., older workers or those with disabilities, or minority workers), this may have to occur without the direct support of their employers. Moreover, workers may be less concerned with realising the employers’ enterprise-specific outcomes and seek to direct their learning efforts to personal goals, such as career mobility. So, there is a growing and important set of imperatives to understand the ways in which workplaces can support learning to sustain these different kinds of development (Harteis, 2003). All of this
has led to interest in and focuses on workplaces as learning environments in their own right, rather than as environments whose key purpose and contribution is to augment and extend the experiences in and learning from educational institutions.
In this way, understanding more about workplaces as sites of learning serves more than short-term pragmatic economic concerns of increasing business efficiency and national economic goals. Developing and sustaining workers’ occupational competence stand as important and worthwhile educational goals through being able to support individuals’ personal and professional advancement. For individuals, this includes enjoying a rich working life, resisting unemployment, seeking advancement and securing effective work and occupational transitions. These goals can be realised through engagement in ongoing learning through work and throughout working lives. They include a consideration of issues associated with identity and how individuals can come to position themselves as competent in changing work and occupational circumstances. Thus, learning for workplace and personal-professional development come together through a consideration of learning through work and now stand as a central and...
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